British Antarctic Survey (BAS)

Construction restarts on UK’s largest Antarctica research hub

Image credit: British Antarctic Survey (BAS)

Construction has restarted on the UK’s largest research hub located in Antarctica after pausing for months to wait out the harshest winter conditions.

To avoid the risk of introducing Covid-19 to British Antarctic Survey’s (BAS) Rothera Research Station, the construction team was forced to spend two weeks in quarantine and had three Covid-19 tests prior to making the 11,000km voyage by ship.

Construction on such facilities can only take place during a short window in the Antarctic summer months, in order to avoid the harsh, dark winter.

This is the second season that work has taken place on building the research hub, during which time the team aims to complete the pre-cast concrete foundations; ground floor slab; rock anchors, and stub columns, as well as the drainage and the perimeter wall, before returning in December 2021 to complete the outer structure.

The new scientific support facility will be called the Discovery Building and commemorates the discovery of Antarctica just over 200 years ago.

Facilities in the new two-storey 4,500m2 building include preparation areas for field expeditions; offices; a medical centre; recreational spaces, including a music room and climbing wall, alongside science workshops.

The facility has a unique design, with a thermally efficient envelope to minimise energy use, along with heat-recovery generators and photovoltaic solar panels. It also has a snow and wind deflector, the largest of its kind in Antarctica, to minimise time spent removing snow accumulation from around the building.

Scientists will have the option to work in bright, open-plan offices, with roof lights increasing the amount of natural light that comes in.

“Although this year’s construction season has been shortened, we have put together a programme to ensure we can continue progress on this crucial piece of infrastructure, which will support the construction works in the coming season substantially,” said Maurice Siemensma, project manager at BAM.

David Brand, BAS senior project manager added: “We have planned this year’s construction season and overcome a number of challenges, including logistics and maintaining safety for our staff. This short season will see the completion of a vital stage of construction for this new facility at Rothera, which will help generations of scientists understand the future challenges of climate change.”

In October, Britain’s most advanced polar exploration ship, the RRS Sir David Attenborough, left its shipyard to conduct technical sea trials before making its maiden voyage to Antarctica later this year.

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